Thursday, August 23, 2007
What is it about looking in that is so fascinating for humans? We’re very curious creatures, aren’t we? That’s why I love visiting house museums – liscense to snoop and look and discover how people lived long ago. I’ve been doing this for years and I always learn something, whether it be about furniture, ceramics, painting and period details or the inhabitants of the home. I think it also makes me a better flea market goer and antiquer.
Julia, at this moment in time, is also interested in other people’s houses. I know this interest is probably fleeting so I have taken advantage of it this summer. Last weekend, we went to The Orchards, the home of the author Louisa May Alcott and her family (including her father, Bronson Alcott, a most famous transcendentalist and educator in the 1800’s) in Concord, Massachusetts. What a gem this place is. The tour guide was in her mid 20’s and full of enthusiasm for all things Louisa May and Bronson and Alcott in general. We were told that Louisa May was the J.K. Rowling of her day making in excess of $100,000 from Little Women and her other books. At any rate, the house is approachable and I could imagine Thoreau and Emerson sitting in the parlor enjoying the Alcott children's plays and concerts.
I especially liked that many things were not perfect at Orchard House - the walls had cracks in them and the floors went up and down. Things were in varying states of repair and restoration. One thing about house museums that I don't like is that sometimes things are just too perfect, too straight, too neat and tidy. I prefer a little decay and signs of life. There were red apples in many of the rooms which was a very nice human touch.
Julia's became fascinated with Louisa May this winter when we borrowed the newest film version of Little Women (1994, starring Winona Ryder) from the library. We discovered that parts of it were filmed near us in Historic Deerfield which made it extra special. We went on to borrow two more versions - from 1949 starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lawford, and from 1933 starring Katherine Hepburn. We called it our Little Women Film Festival and it was a good way to spend winter evenings by the fire.
There's a great children's book about Louisa May and Thoreau called Louisa May and Thoreau's Flute which is illustrated by Mary Azarian. Sadly it is out of print. It does tell a fictional story about their friendship which is very sweet. Look for it at your library and share it with your kids.
This picture of Julia skipping down Louisa May's path is the way I like to think of her - happy learning and enjoying life. It has been a nice, if rather quick summer, and I'm so sad for it to end as I am sure most of you are. I hope you enjoy one of the last fleeting days!